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James Beard Foundation announces cookbook nominees

Cookbook collage

Awards season is now in full swing as the James Beard Foundation announced its nominees for its 2015 book awards. As is usually the case, while there is some overlap with the IACP nominees, the lists diverge.

While Heritage was the big winner on the IACP list, no cookbook is nominated in more than one category for the JBF awards. Heritage  did make the list for American Cooking, but the other contenders (The New England Kitchen: Fresh Takes on Seasonal Recipes and Texas on the Table: People, Places, and Recipes Celebrating the Flavors of the Lone Star State) do not appear on IACP's list.

The same holds true for the General category, as Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook is the only cookbook to be nominated by both organizations. The other JBF nominees in this category are The Kitchn Cookbook and Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home. The latter cookbook is highly rated by EYB Members.

One category contains two books that appear on both lists: baking. The matchup between heavyweights Baking Chez Moi and Flavor Flours occurs here too. The third contender in this battle is Della Fattoria Bread but the odds are not in that book's favor.

Other books of note nominated for a JBF award include My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz, A Change of Appetite by Diana Henry, andBitter by Jennifer McLagan. You can view the complete cookbook nominee list on EYB, and visit the James Beard Foundation site to see nominees for television, podcasts, and restaurants in addition to cookbooks.

Publication of The Whole Pantry cookbook halted

The Whole PantryFollowing Penguin Books Australia's announcement that it would be pulling Belle Gibson's The Whole Pantry from circulation, the book's U.S. publisher, Atria, has confirmed it will cancel the US release of the book due to questions about Gibson's story of beating cancer through healthy eating and natural remedies. "Our decision was made upon the failure of the author to provide clarification for numerous allegations concerning her biography and charitable endeavors," wrote Atria in a statement. The book was scheduled to go on sale April 14.

Gibson rocketed to fame based upon her inspirational cancer survival story and had built a social media empire including a wellness app. Doubts began to emerge about the truthfulness of her tale as some of her close friends have questioned her illness and her publisher admitted not verifying the story. Gibson claims to have been diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 20, but has been evasive about where she was treated and who diagnosed and treated her.

Gibson also faces scrutiny about solicitations she made from her fans for charitable contributions. Fairfax Media reports that Gibson hasn't turned over thousands of dollars promised to five charities, noting that "Gibson was unable to provide a list of organisations that have received money or say how much has been donated to date." 

The fate of Gibson's healthy living app is also in question. It has been pulled from Apple's Australian and US app stores, although the Android version appeared to be available as of Tuesday. Apple's promotion page for its new smart watch still lists Gibson's app as "coming soon," but it seems unlikely that the app will be made available.

No more secret recipe

recipe cards - top secret

As we've discussed previously, some people share their "secret" recipes but others like to hold on to them. Bakery owners have obvious reasons to fall into the latter camp. So you can imagine the dismay when a San Francisco-area baker discovered that someone broke into his bakery and stole his recipe binders.

Ry Stephen, a 28-year-old pastry chef, recently opened Mr Holmes Bakehouse. The shop has been open three months and is quite popular, with people waiting in line to buy his West Coast phenomenon, the cruffin (a riff of Dominique Ansel's cronut). Apparently cruffins are beyond delicious, as one night last week, a thief stole the recipe for the pastry, along with 230 other recipes, from binders stored in the bakery's kitchen. Nothing else in the store was taken: the thieves left behind money, baking equipment, an iPad and computers.

While Stephen is upset, he doesn't think that the thieves will be able to recreate the cruffin from the written recipe. He notes that not all of the steps are listed, nor is the source of the butter (however, the NY Times spilled the beans on the butter, which is imported from Isigny-sur-Mer, France). While Stephen trusts his employees and doesn't believes any of them is the culprit, he's not as sure about his competitors. "There is a spirit of learning among pastry chefs," he said. But, "there are always one or two who are trying to take everything and not give back," he said. "That part disappoints me."

This heist comes on the heels of the French Laundry burglary, where thieves made off with wine worth about $300,000 USD. (Most of the wine was later recovered.) Whether or not this robbery signals a trend, one thing is certain: it's good for business. Stephens' bakery was already busy, but now the lines for cruffins are even longer. "If someone stole it, it's got to be good," said Ashley Edwards, a restaurant manager who was waiting in line.

Grade inflation

pancakes with maple syrup

Last month, a USDA rule change went into effect with relatively little fanfare. The agency adopted rules that change how maple syrup is graded in the United States. Part of the reason for the change was to bring the US in line with international standards, but consumer preferences also played a significant role.

Consumers have been gravitating toward dark syrup, formerly known as Grade B, which connotated that it was inferior to Grade A. "We've seen a real interest in the dark, strongly flavored syrups using a system that downgraded that by calling it Grade B, just didn't make sense anymore," said Matt Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association. Vermont adopted the new grading system a year before the USDA made it mandatory for all states.

Canada, which is the world's top producer of maple syrup, is still holding onto it's number 1 and 2 grading system. However, change is on the horizon there as well. The provinces of Quebec and Ontario are currently working through the process of changing to the international system, and Gordon believes "they're looking at probably a two year phase in for the new grades."

We found a link to a handy infographic that explains the new system. All retail grade maple syrup is now Grade A, but with descriptors for variations in color and strength. For example, what was formerly Grade A Light Amber is now Grade A Golden Color, Delicate Taste. The maple syrup formerly known as Grade B is now called Grade A Very Dark Color, Strong Taste. It seems a little fussy to me, but perhaps this will clear up any confusion over the quality of maple syrup variations. 

Photo of American style pancakes with bacon & maple syrup from Eat Like a Girl by Niamh Shields

Sunset looks for a new home

Sunset magazine

Time, Inc., the corporate parent of Sunset magazine, announced that it has sold Sunset's 7-acre campus, located in Menlo Park, California. The campus contained several gardens and midcentury ranch-style buildings designed by Cliff May, considered the father of the California ranch home. Sunset magazine's rich history traces all the way to 1898 with a sales publication developed by the Southern Pacific Railroad, which wanted to lure people to the West.

In the 1950s, the magazine moved to its current location and became a chronicle of California living from the kitchen to the garden and beyond. Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet magazine, reminisced about the magazine's impact: "When I moved to Berkeley in 1973, I had all these articles I had been pulling out of Sunset," she said. "I had one that told you how to build your own bread oven in your backyard. They were so ahead of the curve. They made California seem like the most romantic place on earth."

Time Inc. will continue to publish Sunset and has started a search for a new home for the magazine's kitchen, gardens, and offices. The magazine will stay in its current location through 2015. This move is one of many that Time Inc. has undertaken during its spinoff from Time Warner. Earlier this year, Time sold the Alabama property that housed magazines like Southern Living and Cooking Light, but it leased back some of the space, so those magazines didn't have to move.

Some former Sunset staffers worry that the move will negatively impact the magazine. "It will be hard for Sunset to survive as it represents itself now . . . as a working voice of the West, without the tools for testing and experimenting," says Jerry Anne Di Vecchio, who worked at Sunset for over 40 years.

Worrying news for chocolate lovers

Salted choclate caramel tarts

Chocolate lovers, brace yourselves. The world's chocolate supply can't keep up with demand, according to several chocolate producers including Mars, Inc. and Barry Callebaut. This "chocolate deficit" - in which consumers eat more chocolate than is produced in a year - is growing and shows no sign of abating.

The reasons for the deficit are two-fold. First, bad weather and a fungal disease are affecting chocolate crops, especially in West Africa, which produces more than 70 percent of the world's cocoa. The International Cocoa Organization estimates the fungal disease has caused the loss of 30 to 40 percent of global coca production. 

The second reason is that we just love chocolate too much. There is an almost insatiable demand for chocolate products, especially dark chocolate, which uses much more cocoa (the average chocolate bar contains about 10 percent cocoa, while dark chocolate bars can reach 70 percent cocoa by volume). Demand outstripped supply by 70,000 metric tons in the last year, and shows no signs of slowing down.

So what's being done to alleviate this crisis? One avnue is increased innovation in cocoa production. One research group in Central Africa "is developing trees that can produce up to seven times the amount of beans traditional cocoa trees can." Whether this trade-off in production quantity will affect the quality and flavor of the product is unknown, but judging by other crops like supermarket tomatoes, the prognosis is not great.

Unless a solution is found to dramatically (and quickly) increase cocoa production, consumers should be prepared to continue to pay more. Chocolate prices have been climbing steadily since 2012 and nothing suggests a departure from this trend.

Photo of Salted chocolate & caramel tarts from Delicious Magazine (Aus)

Observer Food Monthly announces award winners

Persiana, Nigella Lawson, & Jack Monroe

Awards season in the U.S. won't happen for several months, but in the U.K. there's food award action now, as indexed magazine Observer Food Monthly announces its 2014 award winners. While much of the action focuses on restaurants and retailers, there are some awards that EYB members outside of the U.K. may find interesting.

Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East & Beyond by Sabrina Ghayour won the award for best cookbook. Ghayour's take "on Middle Eastern cooking mixes it up a bit and includes turmeric and cumin roast potatoes and pomegranate-glazed pork as well as pistachio and lemon shortbread." The best food blog award goes to Jack Monroe, the blogger, cookbook writer, and austerity activist who "has defeated all-comers, from Edwina Currie to internet trolls, on her way to success."

If you're in the market for a new brownie recipe, you might want to try out the winner for best reader's recipe: smokin' pig licker brownies by Gavan Knox (yes, they contain bacon). Read more about the 2014 award winners, including an interview with Nigella Lawson, OFM's food personality of the year. 

Condé Nast shakes things up

Epicurious & Bon Appetit

Publishing powerhouse Condé Nast announced yesterday that it is merging the sales and editorial staff of Epicurious with that of Bon Appétit magazine. According to the press release, the move will combine "Bon Appétit's authority in food content and lifestyle with Epicurious' digital leadership and recipe database." The move comes as part of a larger reshuffling within the organization.

As part of the change, Epicurious chief Carolyn Kremins is out, and Adam Rapoport, currently editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit, will oversee both editorial teams. Nilou Motamed will remain editor-in-chief of Epicurious but will report to Rapoport. There has been no word on how much of the editorial teams will remain in place, but according to The New York Post, about one-third of the Epicurious sales force will be let go.

Condé Nast assures us that "each brand will continue to have its distinct voice and positioning," but they expect the consolidation will drive up the combined entities' ranking on ComScore (an internet ranking service) to #3. Individually Epicurious ranks #6 on ComScore while Bon Appétit comes in at #8. Although it's not clear what, if any, changes users can expect to see, the press release notes that the merger will allow "cross-promotion of content, co-branded partnerships, programs, events and sponsorships, and close collaboration of two talented teams."

What do you think of this merger?

The shape of things to come?

Flare saucepan

What happens when a rocket scientist applies his skills to cookware? You get a new saucepan that is up 40% more efficient than a conventional pan. The Flare cookware series, developed by Lakeland in conjunction with Dr. Thomas Povey of Oxford University, uses channels in the sides of the pan that allow more heat to enter the pan than a conventional, smooth-sided pan.

An avid mountaineer, Dr. Povey turned his talents to cookware design after struggling to boil water at altitude. He realized that a lot of energy is spent just heating the pan. "There's nothing wrong with (a usual saucepan), but it loses a lot of heat, which means it has less energy efficiency, which means it wastes more heat, energy, and gas," said Dr. Povey, who applied aerodynamic and heat transfer science "used in rocket and jet engines to create a shape of a pan that is more energy efficient."

The cast aluminum pan works most efficiently on gas cooktops, although it can be used on electric, ceramic and halogan hobs (but presumably not induction hobs).  As is the norm with innovation, these pans come at a premium price: the 20cm (8") saucepan clocks in at £49.99 ($86 USD; $91 AUD). 

What do you think of the new design - is it here to stay, or is it just a flash in the pan?

Are cupcakes dead?


"The cupcake is dead." So says the tweet from Russ Parsons, food writer with the L.A. Times, with a link to an article that announces five foods that "could be the next cupcake." The post was in response to the news that Crumbs, a publicly-traded chain of cupcake shops, was closing all of its stores.  Other tweets echo the sentiment: "RIP cupcakes" laments Bread & Butter, and The Guardian US wondered if "the cupcake economy is crumbling." For those who hadn't heard of Crumbs, it was a bakeshop that helped create the cupcake craze at the beginning of the 2000s and grew to be one of the largest cupcake chains in the U.S. It went public three years ago, but with the cupcake craze waning, and with a lot more competition entering the fray, the company endured losses in each of the past three years. The death knell came on July 1, when the Nasdaq stock market suspended trading of its shares.

But all of the laments aside, does this really mean the end of cupcake shops? It does seem like the refrain of "cupcakes are dead" has gone on before. Back in 2011, a writer for NPR claimed that cupcakes were dead. (She thought pie would be the next cupcake.) Other cupcake shops seem to be holding on, at least for now. Some reports theorize that the reasons Crumbs went under were more or less the same reasons other businesses fail: expanding too fast and taking on too much debt, not because the cupcake trend has breathed its last breath.

Even if cupcakes couldn't support a publicly-traded national company doesn't mean the snack-size cakes are in danger of disappearing from bakeries. Portable cakes are just too convenient to go away. Plus, the last Crumbs cupcake is up to $250 on eBay - not too shabby for being dead.

Do you believe the cupcake trend is played out? What do you think will be "the next cupcake?"

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